Thursday, September 19, 2013

I Am A Girl

As we anguish here in Australia about the lack of female representation on the parliamentary Cabinet makeup of our new government of the day, opportunity, recognition and the glass ceiling are sadly not the only battles girls all over the world face, every day, just for being a girl.

Carly and I went along to the very limited screening of the powerful documentary I Am A Girl at the start of the month, and got a window into a breadth of so many serious, damaging and oppressive issues for girls in very different parts of the world, for being a girl.

Six girls, reaching the point in their lives where they are on the cusp between childhood and becoming an adult, were captured by Australian documentarian, Rebecca Barry. These girls face the vulnerability that being a girl present them in today’s world – child marriage, sexual violence and slavery, high maternal mortality rates, depression and anxiety, the struggle to access education, and the threat of online exposure.

Set out very much like Babies in terms of a group of girls picked out across the world to spotlight, these girls however share their own stories, and tell us, the viewers, of their hopes and dreams, fears and challenges.

Aziza could well one day reach her goal of becoming the first female president of Afghanistan. Wouldn't that be wonderful! She toils at the barriers to receiving an education, with the support of the memory of her father, and amid the chores she needs to do to ensure her family have water.

She was told of the story of Malala in Pakistan, shot in the head for trying to access education by the Taliban, after her story was filmed, and was given the choice to no longer have her story aired due to safety concerns about the same happening to her – she refused, asserting to tell her story, as it is, as she is, and with her hopes and dreams boldly shown. Leadership, resilience and bravery, right there!

We join Habiba in Cameroon as she prepares for her wedding day. She talks about it being her choice, and that she has been so lucky to have been allowed to make the choice. She will need to give up going to school once she is married, and she speaks of her hopes for the union.

Kimsey in Cambodia is the most harrowing of stories, as we find her mid-argument with her mother, about the care of her daughter, and how she was making the income for the family. She then shares the story about selling her virginity, the price and the bargaining, and the arrangement with the man who bought it for some time. For such a meagre dollar amount. She talks of the trauma of that transaction, and how now, prostitution is her only way of making some income. She is in a place where no other options seem available.

The poverty is confronting, but the abuse she suffers from her customers, her mother, and her boyfriend is more so. The hopelessness, and then endless cycle, is heartbreaking. A story I have heard all too many times, when I worked with young women and girls in Phnom Penh.

Katie, by contrast, talks about her level of privilege and comfort, living in Sydney and going to a good school. She talks of opportunity and the support of her family. And yet, depression and issues around self worth drag her down to the depth of suicidal ideation.

Self-described “ghetto” dweller, Breani, is a vivacious young lady intent on taking photos of herself, posting them on the internet to gain ‘likes’ and positive feedback, and also working on a pop-rap music aspiration. Fame and acceptance is what she is seeking. Vulnerable and innocent, she is.

Watching Manu arrive at a hospital in PNG in preparation to give birth, and watch as she starts her labour journey, surrounded by screams from other women in the same physical pain, giving birth on the floor of a busy, chaotic hospital ward, blood smears between curtained-cubicles, is distressing. She talks to the camera before her day of becoming a mother about how sex was so vaguely talked about in her household, and that whilst there was some mention of a safe sex message, there was no actual instruction that she felt she received. Therefore, she was pregnant after her first time, and becoming a mother, despite her and her family having schooling completion plans for her.

PNG is the country with one of the highest maternal mortality rates, and in watching the film, you could feel the whole cinema hold their collective breath as Manu goes through this experience.

Our screening included a Q&A session with Barry, which allowed many of the details above to be fleshed out and further stories of these girl's journey be shared. We also learnt of the work ahead to have this film screened more to reach a bigger audience - they have just announced that there are now extended sessions in more cities for the week ahead, with the hope of greater demand as word spreads. You can also host your own screening, as a fundraiser, if it fits within your cause.

Certainly a film that needs a greater audience, an important carrier of the story of the plight of girls around the world. Of pain, of hope, and a spark of more awareness and advocacy. See it! Demand it be shown at your local cinema! These girls' stories will amaze you. Inspire you. Educate you.

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